John Shearer: Covering The Derek Dooley House Auction

Monday, August 25, 2014 - by John Shearer

On Saturday, as part of my freelance journalism work I do, I had an opportunity to cover the scheduled auction of former Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley’s home in West Knoxville.

He has, of course, moved on to Dallas with his family as receivers coach of the Cowboys of the NFL, but his large and historic home bought within his first year at Tennessee for more than $2 million was still for sale.

I had volunteered to cover the event for the Knoxville News Sentinel, so I was excited knowing it would not be the typical high school sports event or weekly festival type story.

Being interested in history, I had in advance tracked down some information about the builder of the home back in the 1930s – Otho Dorsett, who had made his money with the Knox Porcelain Corp. I had also learned that the two recent owners of the home before the Dooleys were a Dr. John Hoskins Jr. and Knoxville investments and real estate official Robert Talbott.

After driving down winding Duncan Road just west of Lakeshore Park past a variety of homes representing different eras and personal incomes, I saw the address – 2130 Duncan Road.

I had actually driven by the 10,000-square-foot home once before back in 2010. An article in the paper had mentioned about the Dooley family’s purchase of the home and its address. So being a curious – or maybe nosy – person, I drove by it one day. And I was impressed with the aesthetically pleasing home sitting at the top of a nicely sloping hill and was glad it was not a typical large house built in the last 10 years.

When I pulled into the driveway Saturday morning, I immediately knew something did not seem right, as I saw only three or four cars, and one appeared to be turning around.

A man named Chuck Fisher, representing the Furrow Auction Co., and his son were letting people know the auction was canceled because the home had been sold the day before. But complicating the matter for me was that he said the buyer and the price were being kept confidential until the closing, when, of course, it becomes public record.

I got a little information from him, and he did tell me that a former owner, Robert “Doc” Morris, was there. So I parked my car and went up and talked with him.

A retired surgeon whose life growing up as the son of an educator in rural Sevier County gave him an easily approachable personality, Dr. Morris talked about owning the home from 1970-87.

After talking with him for a period and seeing just a few other cars drive up and turn around after being told the auction was canceled, I was told by Mr. Fisher that they needed to secure and close up the property.

I asked if I could get a picture of the front of the house, and he said that would be fine. So Dr. Morris and I walked up to the house from the west side and I took a few pictures of the front while he told me some more information about the house and the additions made to it.

He said he had built on to the back of the house, finding nearly identical brick in Virginia, and that he formerly had a swimming pool right next to the east end of the house. Today, a large terrace patio with a grill and lounge chairs is there, and a water-over-the-dam type of swimming pool and an outdoor basketball court sit about 20-30 yards down the east side of the hill.

He also told me that the estate originally had about 60 more acres, but he sold those off.

As we walked around, I started thinking about the Dooley family and the disappointments that come at some point for most everybody, even for people of means or accomplishment.

I had gone to the University of Georgia when Derek’s father, Vince, was the football coach, and I had observed and talked briefly with Derek and his family when I would see them fairly regularly at Church Street United Methodist Church. His wife, Dr. Allison Dooley, seemed especially nice and approachable, and his three children seemed like typically happy and well-adjusted youngsters.

In part because of those connections, I wanted to see him succeed, except, of course, when he played my alma mater. But he did not win enough games from 2010-12 and resigned. And then after he left and was replaced by Butch Jones and his more magnetic personality, more people began to criticize former Coach Dooley’s coaching style on and off the field.

As a Georgia fan, I could relate to that, as I greatly scrutinized less successful Bulldog football coaches Ray Goff and Jim Donnan, and even the likable Mark Richt’s record with player off-the-field incidents.

But as I walked back to my car Saturday, I was just thinking of the sadness of the whole Dooley family situation in Knoxville, even though they are probably doing well living in Dallas, his wife’s former hometown.

Maybe he can find another head coaching job somewhere if he wants and can try to redeem his career after learning from whatever mistakes he made at Tennessee. Or maybe he can become an athletic director, like he was at Louisiana Tech.

Or maybe he can even practice law, which I had heard around our church he was planning on doing for a period in Knoxville until the Dallas job suddenly opened.

Anyway, I said goodbye to Dr. Morris and Mr. Fisher from the auction company. After getting in my car but before leaving, I quickly tried to call real estate listing agent Sharon Bailey to get a little more information for my story. I was thankfully able to reach her.

After getting off the phone, I drove the 100 yards or so down the driveway knowing I was the only one still there. It was an interesting feeling to say the least and a quiet contrast to the attention that was expected to have been thrust on that estate that morning.

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